(A version of this review was published on Baristanet, July 26, 2011. This review includes dishes and photos from a subsequent visit. )
In the midst of the most blistering summer week in recent memory on the eastern seaboard, residents gave Brick Lane, Montclair’s new and most eagerly awaited Indian restaurant, a fervent welcome.
For locals frustrated with inconsistent meals at Baristaville’s other Indian restaurant, it’s been a long wait for this offshoot of two successful New York-based restaurants which take their inspiration from East London’s Brick Lane, a landing area in decades past for Irish, Jewish and Bengali immigrants, on which many curry houses are now located.
From an expected opening in March, the months had dragged on, followed by a worrying interim period more recently when the letters spelling out the restaurant’s name disappeared off its planned Valley Road location.
Happily, Brick Lane opened its doors to local residents on July 15, and I went along with the family on Friday, heatwave notwithstanding.
It was a mark of our eagerness that despite a half-hour wait for a table reserved in advance, our patience didn’t wilt, although our hair and clothes did on that sweltering 100F evening. The smart, walnut-floored restaurant with pretty, repurposed colander light fixtures was filled to capacity, with three other parties waiting, by 7:00pm.
For entertainment, I conducted impromptu exit interviews with patrons who had eaten, and found a recurring theme (and an encouraging one for a first timer) – the food and service were pronounced fabulous (several were already repeat visitors within that first week; it was one woman’s third visit), but they added gently that the waiting time could be improved.
Once we were seated, it didn’t take long before the food started arriving, and our exhausted servers, attempting to cope and placate customers as power cuts disrupted the brand-new air-conditioning system on that hot day, were most polite and attentive.
The kids were intent on naan and chapati, two Indian breads which were the perfect vehicle with which to mop up dhal makhani (a sweet and spicy black lentil dish). Well-versed in Indian restaurant dining, they also ordered a mango lassi each, before checking if it even was on the menu. That traditional Indian yoghurt drink comes sweet, salty, savory (with added ginger and chillies) or blended with fruit such as mango, the final option being the perfect, sweet riposte to fiery curries.
We also had Chicken Khurma, a creamy, mildly spiced, slightly sweet curry, and Chicken Dhansak, a bit heatier and thickened with lentils. Lamb kofta patties (which resembled grilled burgers) were beautifully spiced, flecked with mint and served on a bed of caramelized onions. Every dish was tasty and freshly made, and the breads warm and perfect accompaniments.
Needless to say, there were plenty of leftovers to take home, which, as with many spiced dishes, tasted even better the next day.
My kids and I visited again the following week to try out the $10 lunch specials. Each special comes with a yellow dhal, naan bread, rice, a beautiful mustard seed and lentil-flecked sauteed cabbage (just like my Gran used to make!) and your main course of choice.
We shared a lamb kurma, which was tasty and very tender, and a fish bhuna, fiery red and deelish. Our favorite was the lamb samosa that we started with, pepped up with herbs and aromatic spices and wrapped in a fresh-made pastry (drool). The specials were rounded off with a mini rice pudding, studded with raisins and nuts. Mmm. I’d say one lunch special and a couple of appetizers could suffice for two lunching ladies who’re watching their waistlines!
Verdict: Excellent. Definitely worth visiting.
Other dishes to try: For starters, try the lassuni gobi, a cauliflower dish in a tomato and garlic sauce; tandoori snapper is a whole snapper baked in the tandoor, great for two people. Boti rolls are like a wrap, with fillings of tofu, chicken, lamb or prawns, which may be shared between three people. Stuffed calamari has been described as “to die for,” octopus stuffed with seafood such as scallops, clams and oyster, and cooked in a tandoor. Other breads to sample would be the garlic naan, the bharatha (a flaky bread), and Peshwari naan (a sweet version with raisins and coconut), another great partner of spicy curries.
Click over to my review on Baristanet to read my interview of Ritesh Patel, Brick Lane’s Montclair-based communications guru.
And check out Brick Lane’s Facebook page here.
(Photos in slideshow include recycled-colander lighting fixtures at Brick Lane, mango lassi, naan bread, chicken dhansak, lamb patties, lamb samosas, yellow dhal, mini rice puddings and Karthik Kumar, Brick Lane Montclair’s chef-owner.)
540 Valley Road
Montclair, NJ 07042
Sun-Thurs 12 noon to 11:00pm,
Fri-Sat, 12 noon to 1:00am